$5m Defence Trailblazer grant for onshore quantum silicon

Silex Systems will establish a $16 million production plant, funded in part by the federal government, to provide companies like Silicon Quantum Computing with a sovereign supply of quantum silicon.

Amid an ongoing shortage of enriched silicon, the Australian uranium enrichment technology company on Thursday announced it had been awarded $5.1 million from the Defence Trailblazer for the project.

The Defence Trailblazer program is a partnership between the University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide valued at $250 million. Funding of $100 million is provided by the universities and the Department of Education, with the remaining $150 million from industry partners and the CSIRO.

The Quantum Silicon Production Plant, to be located at the company’s Lucas Heights technology centre, will be an end-to-end manufacturing facility initially capable of producing between 5kg and 10kg of Zero-Spin Silicon (ZS-Si), in the form of halo-silane, annually.

The ZS-Si will then be converted to “multiple Quantum Silicon product forms for potential customer in the global silicon-based quantum computing industry”, namely a gas and a solid, creating a new value-added export market for Australia.

Until now, the “main supply of enriched silicon came from Russia, but this source has been disrupted by geopolitical events”, Silex chief executive and managing director Michael Goldsworthy said in a statement.

He said the three-and-a-half year project would assist the company to “transition our ZS-Si enrichment technology from the pilot demonstration level to commercial-scale”, including technology used to produce commercial products required by silicon quantum chip fabricators.

It will also “establish sovereign capability and secure supply chain for this critical enabling material for the emerging silicon quantum computing industry” in Australia

Silex will undertake the project, which follows on from an earlier demonstration project funded under the federal government’s cooperative research centre projects program, with Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC) and the UNSW.

Professor Michelle Simmons, chief executive of SQC, said that the Trailblazer funding support the commercial-scale production of quantum silicon, which is “essential to the manufacture of SQC’s atom-scale quantum computers in Australia”.

“The creation of a sovereign supply of this vital material comes at a time when our traditional source of supply has been disrupted. We couldn’t be more motivated to support this project,” Professor Simmons said.

UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor for research and enterprise, Professor Nicholas Fisk, said the project was of “critical importance to Australia’s ability to maintain leadership in an increasingly competitive and strategic endeavor to develop the world’s first scalable quantum computing technology”.

Australia is widely regarded as a global quantum leader, with local companies attracting a significant portion of venture capital compared with our international competitors, according to the Tech Council of Australia.

Defence Trailblazer executive director Dr Sanjay Mazumdar said that quantum computing was “expected to have a profound impact on defence and national security activities, making the Quantum Silicon Production Plant a “perfect fit with the intent of the Trailblazer”.

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